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Generalized Anxiety Disorder in Children

By Josephine Elia, MD, Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Professor of Pediatrics;Attending Physician, Sidney Kimmel Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University;Nemours/A.I. duPont Hospital for Children

Generalized anxiety disorder involves excessive, persistent nervousness, worry, and dread about many activities or events.

In children with this disorder, worries are general and encompass many things and activities. Stress worsens the anxiety. These children often have difficulty paying attention and may be hyperactive, restless, and irritable. They may also sleep poorly, sweat excessively, feel exhausted, and complain of physical symptoms, such as stomachache, muscle aches, and headache.


  • Symptoms

The diagnosis is based on symptoms: excessive worries that do not focus on a particular activity or situation or that include many activities and situations. The disorder is diagnosed when symptoms last more than 6 months.


  • Relaxation training

  • Sometimes drugs

If anxiety is mild, relaxation training or other types of counseling may be all that is needed.

If anxiety is severe or counseling is not effective, drugs that can reduce anxiety, usually selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (see Table: Drug therapy for depression) or sometimes buspirone, may be needed.

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